Puckett says goodbye to game, adoring fans

The bright lights that shine on the sports world dimmed a bit Friday as Minnesota Twins star Kirby Puckett announced his retirement at age 35. His sure-fire Hall of Fame career was cut dreadfully short by the development of glaucoma, which led to partial blindness in his right eye.
It would be easy to lament the loss of a great baseball player like Puckett, but to do so implies that his life has somehow come to an end. That is surely not the case. As Puckett said in his own inimitable style, he saved his money, he’ll be all right. His baseball career is over, but his life has arguably just begun.
Rather than mourn the departure of a once-in-a-lifetime talent, we would like to thank Puckett, who generated immense and well-deserved respect from fans and foes alike. His almost tangible zest for the game was surely borne out of his love of life, and Puckett stood apart from the garish greed that overcomes so many athletes in his position. Puckett funds University scholarships for deserving students, and his annual pool tournament has raised thousands for charity. He is indeed the Twins’ greatest player ever, but his benefit to Minnesota has been even greater. We don’t expect that to end anytime soon.
Puckett’s list of on-field accomplishments is as long as it is impressive. In his first major league start, he collected four hits and proved former Twins owner Calvin Griffith right when he once said this kid in the minors could make us all forget about Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew and others. He reached 1,000 hits faster than any player in major league history. He set a World Series record in 1987 by reaching base five times and scoring four runs in a game. And he led the franchise to its first championship. His .356 batting average in 1988 was the highest for a right-hander since Joe DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941. Puckett played in 10 All-Star games and won six Gold Glove Awards.
And then there’s his magical performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Before the game, he told his teammates to climb on his back — he’d get them the win. He did, of course, and then carried them to a second World Series title. He retires with a .318 batting average, 2,304 hits and the adoration of countless fans around the world.
Puckett would likely say that the game is so much bigger than him, that he was the lucky one to have played so well for so long. That may be true, but don’t tell it to the millions of fans who flocked to the Metrodome for years to hear one name bounce off its Teflon-coated confines: Kirby Puckett. Don’t be fooled, one of the all-time greats is leaving the game, and his booming presence will be sorely missed.
Puckett’s bountiful midriff will no longer grace the Dome’s Astroturf, his contagious giggle will no longer echo through the clubhouse. And the Twins will struggle to replace Puckett as the team’s emotional and statistical leader. We don’t expect another athlete — from any sport — to grab our hearts and attention the way Puckett has. After all, there’s only one Puck, and for 12 years that was more than we could have hoped for.